Saturday 3 February 2018

River Exe Boat Trip and Wembury Water Pipit Revisited

Tuesday 30th January and a sunny but cold and frosty morning saw me travelling across Dartmoor towards Exmouth with Mavis and Mike for our regular birdwatching boat trip on the River Exe with Stuart Line Cruises. We headed off a little later than planned due to my bus from Plymouth to our rendezvous at Yelverton being delayed by 40 minutes by the ongoing nightmare roadworks around Derriford Hospital and the roads to Exmouth were busy too but the drive across Dartmoor was stunning. On arriving at Exmouth we didn't have time for a full cooked breakfast at The Docker café but the bacon and fried egg sandwiches we ordered instead were quick and very tasty before we boarded the boat for the start of the trip.

It was beginning to cloud over as we sailed offshore for a look around on a very low tide with extensive sand banks and rocks on show along with the usual birds - brent goose, common gull, curlew, shag, oystercatcher, carrion crow and a very smart adult Mediterranean gull developing a black hood. A grey seal briefly popped its head out of the water too to see what all the fuss was about as we sailed by.

Back in the estuary off Exmouth Quay a great northern diver showed very well close to the boat and at one point gave a brief mournful wail and red breasted mergansers were busily diving and displaying to each other. 

 Great Northern Diver, Exmouth Quay

 Male Red Breasted Merganser


Mist and murk and mizzle duly arrived as we sailed upriver with occasional heavier bursts of rain but it didn't dampen our spirits and we saw a good selection of birds despite the dull light - 2 male goldeneye together at Topsham Quay were very smart looking, Herbert the Slavonian grebe showed well off Cockwood and there were plenty of good views of black tailed godwit, avocet, dunlin, grey plover, redshank, turnstone, oystercatcher, bar tailed godwit, lapwing, curlew, golden plover and 3 greenshanks.

Male Goldeneye, Topsham Quay


Teal. wigeon, mallard and shelduck were also seen but a feeding flock of around 150 pintail on the water off Lympstone were a great if distant sight.

Pintails, Lympstone

A quick look off Exmouth Quay after disembarking the boat and there was no sign of the recently reported Bonaparte's gull which had been coming to bread despite a birder busily throwing Co-Op white slices out into the water but an immature male eider bobbing around in the river channel was a bonus.

Heading back towards Plymouth and we stopped off at Topsham Cemetery to look for hawfinches which have been seen here recently but it was getting late and it was dark and gloomy and mizzley and there was no sign of any but we did see goldcrest, coal tit, chaffinch, redwing and buzzard before we decided to call it a day and drove home.

Friday 2nd February and I decided to visit Wembury again to look for the water pipit that I had brief views of back on January 13th. It was dry and bright for a change but the footpath was still a complete quagmire although work is being done on the path by the horse fields to widen the path and lay down some hardcore. 

Wembury Footpath Work

I quickly found the water pipit feeding on the beach near the sewage pipe with rock pipits and meadow pipits but it was very active and mobile and flighty due to the continuous disturbance from dog walkers along the beach. It regularly flew off but I always managed to refind it and at times I had some nice views and even managed a few of my now infamous record shots.

 Water Pipit

Water Pipit

Water Pipit

Water Pipit

Also seen along the beach were 3+ chiffchaffs, 2 grey wagtails, pied wagtails, dunnocks, linnets, chaffinches and stonechats while a raven and buzzard were seen flying overhead and a pair of mallard and a curlew were on the rocks with the oystercatchers. At least 2 song thrush were busily singing away, a sign of spring to come, and 7 little egrets feeding amongst the cattle on the hillside did a good job initially of looking like cattle egrets before it was time to head home and prepare for a dreaded night shift at work.

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